Working Life: Carly Waterman

The technical specialist at the Zoological Society of London on protecting the pangolin

Carly Waterman with pangolin friend
Carly Waterman with pangolin friend

It used to be the case that whenever people asked what my job was, 100 per cent of them said: 'What's a pangolin?' But in the past year or so, more than half the time someone will say they've heard of them, so word is getting out.

Working with a species that's quite poorly known is challenging. The A-listers such as rhinos and elephants always grab the limelight and attract the bulk of the funding and support, so I'm trying to ensure the little guy also receives conservation attention. At the moment they are in danger of being completely overlooked.

Pangolins come from Asia and Africa and are the most trafficked animals in the world in terms of numbers. There's increasing demand from China and Vietnam for their scales, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine and for their meat, which is a luxury dish.

People think my job must have a narrow focus, but it's really varied. I'm mostly office-based, but I do occasionally visit our projects. The work involves everything from writing funding proposals for new projects to working with our country officers in a number of different African and Asian countries to check on our projects and providing technical support.

We've got projects that run anti-poaching patrols, but we're also working with local communities, because people who poach pangolins don't have any other choice - they're just trying to make money to feed their families. At the other end, we've got projects in China designed to change the behaviour of people who are consuming pangolin products.

In October, we provided information to an international convention of 183 countries on trade in endangered species, which showed that even the small amount of legal trade in pangolins is unsustainable. The convention decided to ban all commercial trade in all pangolin species, and committed to a range of conservation actions.

So the work is starting to have an impact, but there's a long way to go.

Carly Waterman is pangolin technical specialist at the Zoological Society of London, an international scientific, conservation and educational charity with a mission to promote conservation of animals and their habitats

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